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IS in a micro-scale democratic experiment as seen by its participants

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This deck, presented at BOBCATSSS 2015, accompanies a case study of the use of an information system (IS) as a component of a procedure (of a democratic experiment) designed to enhance the complexity of a public discourse and the transparency of a newly established political institution—a grants commission subsidizing students' side-projects in an university setting.

Representative democracy is defined and justified by its relation to the governed—the public. It is therefore vital to understand and confront issues that threaten to undermine that relation. Two problems that are frequently discussed are the over-simplification of complex issues in the public discourse, and overshadowing of the political under the thick veil of professional politics.

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IS in a micro-scale democratic experiment as seen by its participants

  1. 1. An information system 
 in a micro-scale 
 democratic experiment from the 
 perspectives of its participants Jan Martinek, KISK @ FF MU BRNO, @endlife
  2. 2. CONTEXT:
  3. 3. INFORMATION SYSTEM 
 IN A DEMOCRATIC EXPERIMENT FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF ITS PARTICIPANTS DEMOCRATICEXPERIMENT DECISION-MAKINGPROCESS Faculty is subsidizing students’ side projects: Who’sgonnagetmoney?
  4. 4. INFORMATION SYSTEM 
 IN A DEMOCRATIC EXPERIMENT FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF ITS PARTICIPANTS DEMOCRATICEXPERIMENT DECISION-MAKINGPROCESS Faculty is subsidizing students’ side projects: Who’sgonnagetmoney? Sounds easy? It’s not–if you want all participants to be sure that the procedure is fair and the results are based on a good mutual understanding.
  5. 5. Methodology ethnography (rereading conversations, interviews) participantobservation phenomenology institutionaldesign structures of expectations rules and relations deliberativedemocracy critical theory habermas/joshua cohen informationsystem interaction design user experience
  6. 6. QUESTION:
  7. 7. A MACHINE? HOW DO YOU IMAGINE 1
  8. 8. There are various machines. For example this steam machine doing some 
 old-timey magical stuff.
  9. 9. Or this one, made by machines to kill people. Or save people. (Unintended consequences, once again.)
  10. 10. Or… James Brown.
  11. 11. Information systems are quite viable even without a machine. INFORMATION SYSTEM
  12. 12. Information systems are quite viable even without a machine. INFORMATION SYSTEM Though, including the machine in the system makes it a quite different beast. Especially when the machine is programmable.
  13. 13. INFORMATION SYSTEM The question is: What actually happens when the machine enters our door?
  14. 14. INFORMATION SYSTEM The question is: What actually happens when the machine enters our door? IN A DEMOCRATIC EXPERIMENT Or… the door of 
 some democratic institution?
  15. 15. POLITICS 2 Let’s talk about politics for a minute before we get to the point.
  16. 16. PUBLIC GOVERNMENT POLITICS Politics these days is mostly viewed as something people 
 in government do for us, 
 the people—or the public.
  17. 17. PUBLIC GOVERNMENT POLITICSREPRESENTATION We even call it the representative democracy. 
 Politicians represent in some way what we want.
  18. 18. PUBLIC GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATION overshadowing of the political oversimplification of the political issues There are some annoyances though. 
 
 Some people think that everyday politics is not what it should be—important issues get lost in politicians’ squabbles and complex problems are reduced into something that can be described in two sentences. 

  19. 19. PUBLIC GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATION overshadowing of the political oversimplification of the political issues There are some annoyances though. 
 
 Some people think that everyday politics is not what it should be—important issues get lost in politicians’ squabbles and complex problems are reduced into something that can be described in two sentences. 
 Is that the way to a fair and responsible decision making? Probably not.
  20. 20. Well, some people see the hope in the use of…
  21. 21. INFORMATION SYSTEMS Well, some people see the hope in the use of…
  22. 22. PUBLIC GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATION INFORMATION SYSTEMS Information systems should bridge the gap between the representatives and the public.
  23. 23. open & public access to data
 procedure simplification a medium for the discussion INFORMATION SYSTEMS oversimplification 
 of the political issues overshadowing of the political Providing data and
 a way of discussing them.
  24. 24. INFORMATION SYSTEMS • Communication channel • Providing guidance
 templates and examples for applicants, procedure keeping • Data collection tool
 ratings, dates, changes anywhere • Quick results calculation • Results archival process • Opening process to a wider audience
 rules of the process, applications, ratings • Enabling long-term evaluation ROLES There’s quite an array of possible uses of an 
 information system. This list represents the roles in the 
 case I am talking about. 
 Not bad, hm?
  25. 25. INFORMATION SYSTEMS • Communication channel • Providing guidance
 templates and examples for applicants, procedure keeping • Data collection tool
 ratings, dates, changes anywhere • Quick results calculation • Results archival process • Opening process to a wider audience
 rules of the process, applications, ratings • Enabling long-term evaluation ROLES There’s quite an array of possible uses of an 
 information system. This list represents the roles in the 
 case I am talking about. 
 Not bad, hm? And it’s just a simple website. See for yourself on stipendia.fss.muni.cz. (Open source is on github.com/ jan-martinek/deliberative-rating)
  26. 26. INFORMATION SYSTEM 
 IN A DEMOCRATIC EXPERIMENT FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF ITS PARTICIPANTS 3
  27. 27. INFORMATION SYSTEM 
 IN A DEMOCRATIC EXPERIMENT FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF ITS PARTICIPANTS 3 One last thing before I get to the point: I studied how the participants of a democratic experiment perceive the process, their own role in it and the role of the information system.
  28. 28. the public representatives institutional context institutional designers FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF ITS PARTICIPANTS Every democratic process has a complex structure: there’s not only the public and representatives, but there’s the context and many people who design the process (= have an active role in what procedure is established => it’s many people).
  29. 29. THE RESULTS 4
  30. 30. “The machine makes the decision.” 4/1
  31. 31. “The machine makes the decision.” 4/1 When discussing the outcome of the process, “mechanization of the ranking” was mentioned frequently by some of the jurors. Being accountable for decisions made with “electronic clicking” (and defending the results in front of the applicants) was deemed impossible by two of the jurors.
  32. 32. The rules are more evident
 and harder
 to change. 4/2
  33. 33. The rules are more evident
 and harder
 to change. 4/2 The presence of an IS accents the presence of predefined rules of evaluation, as the IS's publicly defined intrinsic algorithms are immutable, unless they're officially changed due to an openly articulated reason.
  34. 34. The tension between subjective judgment 
 and the supposed objectivity of the 
 decision is intensified. 4/3
  35. 35. The tension between subjective judgment 
 and the supposed objectivity of the 
 decision is intensified. 4/3 It is fairly usual that representative organs use voting or various rating methods—though in this case, the aggregative rating was considered by several jurors to be “making no use of the juror’s experience” and, as was mentioned above, these jurors considered themselves impossible to be held accountable for the results and to defend them in front of the public. This is particularly striking in the context of an institutional design based on assumptions drawn from the theory of deliberative democracy.
  36. 36. Development and maintenance is a foggy territory for the institutionally superior stakeholders. 4/4
  37. 37. Development and maintenance is a foggy territory for the institutionally superior stakeholders. 4/4 Important detail is that superior institution considered itself to be resposible for the IS’s functioning, even though running the procedure was kept a responsibility of another actor.
  38. 38. WHY? 5
  39. 39. Design does not originate from designer’s head, 
 it emerges from the practice of interaction. We’ve seen how the actors perceive the democratic procedure 
 and the role of the system. These results are not problems: these are how the situation works out. It’s not something we should solve, it’s something to be held in mind when working with information systems in (democratic) institutions. And its not always the same: at the same time, I wanted to show that it’s important to work with all participants and try to know their view of the institution—it defines the institution, because people interact with what they see in a way meaningful for them. What people see in the institution is the institution. What people see in the information system is the role of the information system.
  40. 40. Design does not originate from designer’s head, 
 it emerges from the practice of interaction.
  41. 41. Design does not originate from designer’s head, 
 it emerges from the practice of interaction. And that’s all, folks!
  42. 42. FINJan Martinek, @endlife

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